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Inside Shell Place

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It seems unlikely that many buildings in the Wood Buffalo region have been as closely watched or as eagerly anticipated as the new home of sport, recreation and event excellence at MacDonald Island Park. As it was erected the community watched with avid interest, getting regular glimpses through an open and inclusive process that included quarterly media updates designed to keep the region informed of the progress of construction. When Shell Place opened to the public in spring of this year, the community was able to see what had been happening behind the construction fences, and had the opportunity to begin to enjoy using a facility that they had helped design.

A series of consultations and engagements held with residents in the preceding years had identified amenities the community felt were needed in Fort McMurray, and guided the design of a proposed expansion at MacDonald Island. Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Council approved the expansion in 2012, and, just weeks later, the ground was broken as the project got under way.

When the Shell Place project, known then as the MacDonald Island Park Expansion, broke ground in 2012, the residents of the Wood Buffalo region were looking forward to an exciting future that included events like the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games. The design of the new expansion was broad in scope, including a performance stadium capable of hosting world-class sport and concert events, a baseball/softball tournament stadium, a turf field house, a badminton centre, a non-profit shared space, a ballroom for hospitality opportunities, and more. Capable of acting as a host venue for the Summer Games and much more, the ambitious project – now known as Shell Place - presented the chance to bring an entirely new sport, recreation and event experience to Wood Buffalo.

Shell Place stands as a landmark of sustainable development in the region and was designed and built to host events of local, provincial and national significance while retaining a strong community component. Created with a community focus, Shell Place presents opportunities to host recreation, sport and concert experiences of every scale, as well as new opportunities for grassroots sports initiatives and minor sport groups.

“It has been tremendously exciting to be part of opening Shell Place to the community,” says Annette Antoniak, Chief Executive Officer of the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo, which operates Shell Place as well as the Suncor Community Leisure Centre, Miskanaw Golf Club and Anzac Recreation Centre presented by Nexen Energy, a CNOOC Limited Company. “When I began my role in early April 2015 I knew the opening of Shell Place would bring terrific new opportunities to the region and I could see the excitement this facility has generated in the community. It is incredible to see the culmination of the process to develop this facility and we are delighted that this space is now being woven into the fabric of sport, recreation and leisure amenities in this community.”

Perhaps the most notable feature of Shell Place is the canopy above the Nexen CNOOC Stage, a structure designed to mimic the northern lights and certain to capture attention thanks to the programmable and flexible lighting options it includes. The canopy and stage serve as an anchor point in the SMS Equipment Stadium, which holds over 4,000 permanent seats and the capacity for additional temporary seating allowing the stadium to host large-scale sport and concert events. The CFL-sized turf field creates a venue ideal for football and soccer, while 13 executive suites provide a myriad of perks such as premium seating and great sight lines.

In the winter months the canopy above the Nexen CNOOC Stage becomes the background for the Molson Outdoor Rink, where skaters of all ages can lace up their skates for a spin around the ice while under the dancing lights.

The Baseball/Softball Tournament Centre provides a home for development of local baseball and softball initiatives, and in 2016 will play host to the prestigious 2016 Baseball Canada Cup, bringing potential future major league and college baseball players to the region to compete. With seating for 1725 spectators plus additional seating on the berm area, the Tournament Centre is destined to become a popular spot to take in a ball game during the summer months in Wood Buffalo.

The outdoor recreation and sport spaces, while impressive in size, scope and quality, are only part of the Shell Place development. Shell Place also includes indoor sport, leisure and recreation opportunities, including the indoor badminton centre that has been designed with the region’s growing and enthusiastic badminton community in mind. The hardwood sprung floor makes the space suitable for sports such as volleyball, creating an amenity that is both functional and flexible. The adjacent turf field house has been floored with the same artificial turf as the SMS Equipment Stadium, allowing for an authentic off-season practice space for a variety of user groups including minor football and soccer.

Community focus is clearly seen in Shell Place with the inclusion of the social profit shared space, operated by anchor tenant the United Way of Fort McMurray. This space will serve as a hub for groups providing vital services to the community and foster the development of those groups and their collaboration.

The new Shell Place Ballroom provides exciting new opportunities for conference, meeting and gala events. With abundant natural lighting and flexible room configurations, as well as a full-service kitchen and hospitality services, the Shell Place Ballroom and associated meeting spaces are certain to become the destination of choice for all those wishing to book space that is warm, inviting and functional for their every event need.

Part of the Shell Place project includes a commitment to honouring the history of MacDonald Island, including the aboriginal history of the region. A series of seven public art installations on the TOTAL Aboriginal Interpretive Trail will pay homage to this history, and the seven Aboriginal artists selected through a jury process will present their interpretations of the Sacred Teachings against a backdrop of the boreal forest and the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers.

“The commitment to sharing the progress of construction with the community has allowed residents to be part of the process from the very beginning,” Antoniak says. “Shell Place was designed in collaboration with the community, built for the community and is now there for everyone in the community to enjoy. We are so grateful for the support of the community and our many partners as we embrace this new opportunity and take on new challenges. The vision of the RRC is to make a difference in the region every day, and Shell Place will provide us with yet another opportunity to make that difference.”

From the ground breaking in 2012 to the official opening on June 12, 2015, Shell Place has captured the attention and imagination of residents of the Wood Buffalo region. This exciting facility in Fort McMurray not only presents new opportunities for community members but a chance to build a reputation as a unique amenity in northern Alberta, enticing visitors from around the province and country to attend sport, recreation and concert events. Through a full slate of scheduled events in 2015, encompassing everything from minor football to the first CFL game ever held in the region and the largest concert in Wood Buffalo history, Shell Place is changing the face of sport, recreation and event experiences in northern Alberta – and setting a new standard of excellence.

Summer 2015 – The Season of the YMM Staycation

While many residents head south down the highway during the summer months, the summer of 2015 has the potential to be a very different season in Fort McMurray given some exciting events taking place from June until August – and many of those history-changing events will happen at Shell Place.

Shell Place, the $127-million expansion project at MacDonald Island Park, was created through a community-led collaborative process that guided the final design of the facility. From the unique canopy above the Nexen CNOOC Stage at SMS Equipment Stadium to the Baseball/Softball Tournament Centre, Shell Place is the new home of sport, recreation and event experiences in the Wood Buffalo region, including several that will be firsts in the history of Fort McMurray.

Making history in the Wood Buffalo region begins on June 12 with a Guinness World Record Attempt, when the Grand Opening of Shell Place is celebrated with thousands of students attempting to break the record for most participants in a ribbon cutting. This event, designed to set the tone for the events to follow over the course of 2015, combines community pride and a desire to make history as Shell Place officially opens.

The Northern Kickoff presented by Shell on June 13 follows the Grand Opening with another history making event when the Edmonton Eskimos take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders at SMS Equipment Stadium in the furthest north game ever played in the CFL. With thousands of football fans in attendance, the Northern Kickoff “kicks off” a summer designed to bring the best in sport and concert experiences to the community.

On June 27, SMS Equipment Stadium hosts the first-ever regular season CFL game in Wood Buffalo history in an east versus west matchup that will see the Toronto Argonauts take the field as the home team, tackling the Edmonton Eskimos in their regular season home opener.

On July 5 professional soccer comes to Wood Buffalo when FC Edmonton Pro Soccer Club presents the 2015 Wood Buffalo Cup. The San Antonio Scorpions and FC Edmonton will hit the turf as they bring world-class soccer excitement to the community and the first international professional league soccer game ever played in Wood Buffalo to life.

July 19 marks an incredibly exciting moment in history when international superstars and icons of rock Aerosmith take over SMS Equipment Stadium. Thousands of cheering rock fans will celebrate one of the most exciting concerts ever held in the region as they welcome a band known for incredible performances.

FC Edmonton returns on August 2 for the second visit from professional soccer in 2015. The 2015 Canadian Rivalry will feature FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury Football Club in another east versus west game certain to excite soccer fans across the country.

The excitement continues into August when Shell Place acts as a host venue for the Western Canada Summer Games, including the much anticipated opening ceremonies. Expected to be a spectacle destined to create life-long memories, the opening ceremonies will kick off ten days of action from 18 exciting sports and thousands of athletes.

“This is a summer of events completely unlike any other to take place in Wood Buffalo before,” says Annette Antoniak, Chief Executive Officer of the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo, the operators of Shell Place. “From the Grand Opening in June to the Western Canada Summer Games in August, there is something for every member of the family to enjoy. When you add in annual events that take place at MacDonald Island Park like Canada Day, we believe we are presenting a myriad of options for the community to enjoy, whether they are fans of football, soccer, music or amateur athletics, or are just looking for a place to celebrate a national holiday with their family and friends.”

Shell Place kicks off the summer of 2015 with a variety of sport, recreation and event options, creating the ideal opportunity to enjoy a summer “staycation” in the Wood Buffalo region.

The Redpoll Centre at Shell Place

Tenants of The Redpoll Centre 1.0 will soon be joined by a number of new neighbours at The Redpoll Centre at Shell Place. The community hub located on the second floor of the new facility will be home to approximately 16 non-profit and charitable organizations.

“We were honoured to have been selected as the anchor tenant of this community benefit shared space,” said Diane Shannon, Executive Director, The United Way of Fort McMurray. “Thanks to support from the Suncor Energy Foundation, we established our first non-profit shared space on Franklin Avenue. The model has worked exceptionally well, helping to strengthen smaller organizations and providing a secure professional office environment.”

The move from the Franklin Avenue location to Shell Place will grow the number of work spaces from 17 to 46.

“We have had a great response from the sector,” said Russell Thomas, Project Manager. “There is a palpable sense of excitement about moving to MacDonald Island and being a part of a world-class facility. Organizations are equally excited about the opportunities to connect and collaborate being part of a shared space centre.”

The United Way has been working with a company called Solutions Business Interiors to maximize the 11,340 sq ft provided by the Regional Recreation Corporation for a mix of social profit, arts, cultural, sports and recreation organizations.

“We are using modular wall technology to create an office environment that will provide unparalleled distribution of natural light and maximum utilization of space,” said Thomas. “The facility has floor to ceiling windows that face north and south. Using modular glass walls will allow everyone in the centre to benefit from an abundance of natural light.”

Central to the success of the community hub will be its common spaces, generously sponsored by the Suncor Energy Foundation. All the tenants will have access to a bright and spacious lunchroom, a place to grab your morning coffee or enjoy a social lunch break. The centre will also offer a reflection room and resource library, a room in the heart of the centre that will provide privacy and access to valuable books and learning materials. Central copying service is also provided.

“The most important aspect to the United Way of being a part of a shared space project like this is the community that gets formed as groups cohabitate,” said Diane Shannon.

“One of the key pillars of what we do as an organization is capacity building. Providing a professional office environment with shared services and the opportunity to engage with and learn from one another is why we are investing in The Redpoll Centre at Shell Place. It is essential to incubate and support the development of organizations that provide essential services to our community. There has been a lack of affordable and appropriate administrative space for this sector for many years. The Redpoll Centre will begin to address this gap in a way that will benefit the entire community.”

The centre will include a number of different spaces for meetings, brainstorming sessions, workshops and collaborative opportunities.

“We are excited to have both an Innovation and a Collaboration room as part of The Redpoll Centre,” said Thomas. “These smaller meeting rooms, for two to eight people, will be perfect for discussion groups, visioning sessions, team discussions and brainstorming. They will be equipped with technology to help make collaboration and connecting with remote participants easier than ever before.”

The large meeting space located in The Redpoll Centre will accommodate groups as large as 40, and will be available for use by both tenants and the community.

“It was really important to us to make this large meeting space available to other groups during times when the centre is closed,” said Shannon. “With a door to the public hallway, we will be able to give access to groups wanting to rent the space without having to open the entire centre. A small kitchenette will also be integrated into the meeting room so that guests can make coffee, put cold drinks in the fridge, or provide snacks.”

Teleconferencing options will also be available in all three of the meeting spaces, allowing for maximum connectivity whether you are a group of two or a group of 40.

“We are working with an audio visual company to make sure we have the right technology for a wide variety of applications,” said Thomas. “Ease of use is essential to the design of our meeting spaces. Whether our guests want to host a conference call or display something from their iPad on the big screen, we want it to be as simple as touching a button on a control panel. We also want our technology choices to serve the tenants and guests of The Redpoll Centre today and into the future.”

Partners in The Redpoll Centre are anticipating information technology that will ensure privacy, protection and redundancy of data.

“We have worked very closely with Ian McLaws and the IT team at the Regional Recreation Corporation,” said Thomas. “Each workstation will be outfitted with the technology required to access a virtual desktop designed specifically for the user. Each organization will be able to have secure server space, with the assurance of having daily back-ups and 24-7 IT support. Data sustainability is really important for community benefit organizations, just as it is for businesses. We are investing to provide a safe, secure and user-friendly IT infrastructure for our tenants.”

Named in reverence for a species of bird native to the area, The Redpoll Centre at Shell Place is expected to be up and running by early June. Tenants will gather for regular flock meetings and begin to discover more about each other and how they might grow stronger together.

“At the end of the day, The Redpoll Centre is about building a stronger community,” said Shannon. “When we work in close proximity with each other, with a common interest in doing good, magical things happen.”

Julie MacLennan, a former tenant at The Redpoll Centre on Franklin, then an employee with Children First, captured the magic beautifully.

“The regular flock meetings were extremely positive and fun to attend,” she shared. “But more importantly, these gatherings forced me from my desk and greatly increased the connectedness between the organizations that shared the space. These flock meetings - and the socialization between members in general - made it impossible not to be motivated by each organization’s contributions to Fort McMurray as a whole. It was truly inspirational.”

Photos by Layla Underwood


A freelance writer, blogger and professional communicator who is passionate about her child, her work, her pets, her community and the power of words, Theresa Wells believes perfection in life is achieved when she is surrounded by amazing people, fantastic stories, cold gin and really hot shoes.